Essay on Rousseau French Revolution

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Human beings have proven to be the most peculiar creatures when it comes to establishing a strong and resistant civil state that will benefit all those within a particular society. For centuries different individuals have attempted to identify the origins of human instincts’. Certain individuals have inclusively taken the time to compose works of their own explaining their point of view and what they consider society should look like shortly. Furthermore, such individuals, now addressed as philosophers have allowed for their work to be critiqued by the public despite the majority of them going against conventional ways of life. This demonstrates the philosophers’ extreme belief in their work and the distinct ideologies they have exposed. Philosophers such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau have expressed the conflicts they viewed within their society at distinct times in history within transformational works of their own. These specific philosophers have pinpointed how they believe individuals of society interact with each other as well as issues of profound importance to them, illustrated within society, while simultaneously providing a viable solution for such issues. John Locke and Thomas Hobbes specifically shared a conservative point of view within their works Two Treatises of Government and The Leviathan, as they believed humans were bad-natured. These two thinkers focused their writings on discussing the solution they proposed for fixing societal problems and forming a civil state possessing the people's rights and thus having significant power over them. Mary Wollstonecraft and Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the other hand, shared a progressive point of view within their work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, and The Social Contract. Wollstonecraft and Rousseau balanced their works by seeking to describe the origins of societal problems and address potential solutions for the future. With that said conservative and progressive thinkers share certain formatting ideas for their work but uphold extremely distinct ideologies within them.

Conservative ideologies are exceedingly distinct from progressive ideologies across themes such as human nature, freedom, and the governmental structure of society. John Locke as a conservative believed that “the most basic law of nature was the preservation of mankind” which entailed protecting life, liberty, and property, and that the government's main purpose was to protect the human rights he established.[footnoteRef:0] Locke had a more optimistic view of humans than Hobbes did, he believed human nature was much more reasonable and from reason derived the common sense of self-preservation. Nonetheless, his idea for addressing societal issues entailed being able to control the people by having them enter a commonwealth after giving their consent with the promise of protecting their God-given rights. His concept of freedom was that all men are free to act as they wish in their life, liberty, and possessions up until entering the commonwealth which can even monitor their possessions. Locke resembles conservative ideals since he includes his beliefs in an enduring moral order for society as does the majority of conservatives. However, Locke’s most conservative ideal includes his personal religious beliefs which were evident within his work as he believed atheism should not have been tolerated at the time. He “was convinced that the entire content of the Bible was in agreement with human reason” and that “the denial of God’s existence would undermine the social order and lead to chaos.”[footnoteRef:1] He also expresses his beliefs of divided power within the commonwealth since too much power can lead to having an absolute ruler and Locke illustrated he was against an absolute monarchy. Thomas Hobbes on the other hand, although conservative as well favored an absolute monarchy to rule all others. Hobbes viewed the nature of beings as a quest of seeking desire after desire and therefore thought that there was no greater good in life. Hobbes saw no distinction between the state of war and the state of nature and believed people's nature was one in which everyone was against each other. He therefore defined it as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” and explained that the people needed to make a commonwealth to leave this state.[footnoteRef:2] Hobbes’ conservative ideals are evident as he expresses his desire to have individuals surrender their rights to The Leviathan and establish moral obligations for political and civil society to flourish. A key distinction between Hobbes and Locke however, was the absolute power Hobbes wanted and Locke went against; specifically, because both individuals are considered conservatives and it is important to understand that not all conservatives see eye to eye when it comes to establishing a civil state for the population. [0: ] [1: ] [2: ]

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Furthermore, progressive ideologies differ greatly from conservative ideologies within the themes of human nature, freedom, and the governmental structure of society since progressives uphold more liberal views. Jean-Jacques Rousseau as a progressive established that people naturally lacked reason and were therefore naturally innocent without duties. He strongly influenced the French Revolution, as progressives advocated for radical change and Rousseau spoke about the inequalities of having a single ruler as well as the need for a social contract. This contract would be governed by the general will and the people while surrendering their rights would simultaneously be gaining the right to govern others by assisting in making laws. Rousseau’s main problem presented was social institutions as they were the ones corrupting “the pure individual.”[footnoteRef:3] The ideas he expresses within his work prove to be increasingly progressive as he expresses his belief in the goodness of people stating that men by nature are naturally as good as any other. As well as his depiction of religion since he announces religion is simply an instrument used by politics making it political. Therefore, he does not express his personal religious beliefs within his work as have numerous conservatives. Rousseau defines the concept of liberty as the defining characteristic of the human being and the source of moral action.[footnoteRef:4] This differs greatly from the conservative standpoint since Hobbes believed one person should govern all others and Rousseau went against tyranny and wanted to see drastic change within society. Wollstonecraft, another progressive thinker, considered individual differences between men and women rather than the nature of human beings. Her work focused primarily on liberating women from stereotypical duties and enhancing education for all children. Wollstonecraft believed all individuals should have the right to freedom and that gender roles should not exist but rather men and women live in a harmonious marriage with mutual respect and friendship.[footnoteRef:5] These two progressive thinkers make significantly evident distinctions between progressive and conservative ideologies. Including revolutionary thoughts that would change society's customs, convention, and continuity which conservatives strongly defend. [3: ] [4: ] [5: ]

Nonetheless, despite the numerous distinctions between progressive and conservative thinkers one of them depicts a more accurate representation of the individual and society than the other. Progressivism demonstrates to have a better understanding of the individual and inclusion of all types of diverse groups expressed through thinkers’ works and the ideologies upheld. Progressivism, for instance, is consistently fighting for change to find a better, fairer, and more equal society while conservatism is content with maintaining the traditional way of doing things. Therefore, progressivism is actively engaged in the public's needs and seeks to provide them with a better and more inclusive country while steadily pursuing opportunities to reform. Additionally, progressives have always had an intolerable attitude toward injustices as they are willing to abandon the status quo to have a country where there is tolerance and justice. Therefore, progressivism represents the individual significantly better than conservatism as it takes into account a person's specific circumstances and considers how it can assist them specifically while unknowingly assisting a larger scope of people which benefits society as a whole. Furthermore, progressives aim to expose societal issues, address them, and find a fair solution to them despite such solutions going against the status quo. Consequently, both the individual and society are adequately represented in the progressive's fight for justice.

In essence, both conservatives and progressives address issues in society and present solutions for them but both have exceptionally different manners of going about solving such issues. Conservatives analyze their current civil state and attempt to make small changes within it to address societal issues while progressives demand instant reforms on behalf of such issues. Nonetheless, it is essential to depict the differences between both ideologies to make a critical decision regarding which conveys the people and its society the best, in this case, progressivism.


    1. Costly, Andrew. “Natural Rights - Constitutional Rights Foundation.” Natural Rights - Constitutional Rights Foundation. Accessed December 9, 2019.
    2. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan; Or, The Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical, and Civil. United Kingdom: George Routledge and Sons, 1886.
    3. Kirk, Russell. “Ten Conservative Principles.” The Russell Kirk Center, November 5, 2018.
    4. Locke, John., Filmer, Robert. Two Treatises on Civil Government. United Kingdom: G. Routledge and Sons, Limited, 1887
    5. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. A Discourse Upon the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality Among Mankind. United Kingdom: R. and J. Dodsley, 1761.
    6. Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. Ireland: J. Stockdale, 1793.
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